Salads are the go-to dishes for those wanting to eat healthier or trying to lose a few pounds. These are a great source of nutrients, especially if you know how to prepare the right kinds of greens. In fact, what is known as lettuce or salad greens is actually a whole variety of different greens that pack a whole range of vitamins and naturally, have their own unique taste.
Some of these kinds of lettuce are not served as is, and instead are cooked quickly. It should however, be done quickly and carefully to avoid destroying the taste and texture. Getting acquainted with the various types of lettuce allows you to choose the right mix for that perfect salad. If you want to truly meet the recommended daily intake of salads, go for a nice bowl of the right greens.
Basic Categories Of Lettuce
Tons of people are only aware of the iceberg lettuce, which is undoubtedly the most popular type out there. Unfortunately, not only is it one of the most tasteless ones (it is, after all, 96% water), but it is also the poorest in terms of nutritional value.
To maximize the nutrients, try to reach for other kinds of greens. There are, in fact, 4 categories to choose from. Lettuce can either be considered loose leaf, crisphead, butterhead, and romaine. Iceberg lettuce is a perfect example of crisphead, thanks to its round head made up of leaves that are packed very tightly. Butterheads have a round shape as well, but the leaves are not as tightly packed and they are normally smoother. Loose leaf ones, as the name suggests, are gathered loosely and can be picked off leaf by leaf. Lastly, romaine has elongated leaves and white rib to distinguish them from other types.
While these other kinds were not as common back then, they can now be easily bought in many grocery stores or markets. Moreover, you can buy the seeds or the seedlings and grow them yourself at home.
Creating A Nutritious Salad
Knowing the nutrient content of different lettuce types is key to creating the healthiest salad. For example, spinach is a great source of vitamin K, as it has almost twice the recommended daily value. It also has vitamin A, iron, and calcium. There are also low-calorie kinds out there, like the red leaf lettuce with its 4 calories per cup but with almost half of the recommended amount of vitamins K and A.
The basic rule is to choose the darker kinds, opting for the “open leaf” or loose kinds like romaine. They have tons of antioxidants and are rich in nutrients as well. This is because they have absorbed more light and created more vitamins. For the same reason, choosing the outer leaves and the tops will allow you to maximize the nutrients.
14 Types Of Lettuce
Now that you are aware that there are a few variations of lettuce available, here is a list of the most popular ones. Again, these can now be found in a lot of stores and markets nowadays so you will not have to search very long for them if you want to add them to your salad bowl.
Also known as chicory, curly endive, curly chicory, or chicory endive.
This type is a close relative of escarole. As opposed to other greens, frisée is very pale green, maybe even yellow or white in color. This is because the farmer protects them from being exposed to too much light while it is growing. The curled leaves are a bit bitter in terms of taste but are full of texture, thanks to its crunchy stem.
Also known as rugola, rugula, rucola, roquette, Italian cress, rocket, or Mediterranean rocket.
Arugula is one of the more popular varieties of lettuce and is very commonly added to salad bowls. It originated from the Mediterranean and is normally added to Italian dishes such as pesto. It is not as bitter and instead, tastes peppery, although the edges may not be as defined.
Also known as Belgian endive, Belgium chicory, French endive, witloof, or witloof chicory.
Endive is a great addition to many salads, thanks to the tinge of bitterness in taste. It is also quite unique in shape, known for its oval appearance and it has quite a soft, almost satiny texture. Beyond being a part of your salad, it is a great idea to use them for small appetizers, thanks to its scoop-like shape.
Also known as red chicory, red Italian chicory, red leaf chicory, or Chioggia.
This is another lettuce type that originated in the Mediterranean, distinct because of its color. This deep red/purple kind of lettuce can be found shaped like endive or round and compact. It has a bitter taste, but once it is cooked, it tastes sweeter and the color turns into brown.
Also known as spider mustard, Japanese greens, potherb mustard, California Peppergrass, kyona, or xue cai.
You have most likely encountered this kind of lettuce, as it is normally added to pre-cut salad packs. It can, however, be bought loose in certain specialty shops or farmers’ markets. Compared to other kinds of lettuce, it has a quite pungent flavor which, however, will not overpower your salad. It looks like tiny oak leaves, thanks to its small, jagged edges but it has quite a bit of texture.
Also known as broad-leaved endive, scarole, or Batavian endive.
This type is related to frisée, although it is bigger, crispier, and a bit more bitter. It is more commonly used in soups as opposed to salads. Moreover, it goes great with beans, as it has been popularly used in Italian cuisine.
Baby Beet Greens
The leaves of beets are tender and a bit spicy when they are still immature. Plus, with their purplish-red veins are eye-catching and makes your salad look more striking. If you wait until they wilt, the color becomes stronger and the leaves themselves taste sweeter.
While watercress is the most common kind of cress found in the United States, there are other kinds like land cress, curly cress, and upland cress. All of these varieties are known for their peppery taste. You can buy them in bunches and are distinct for their small green leaves and tough stem that is quite fibrous. They are normally grown in sandy ground, so you should wash them very carefully before eating.
Also known as spoon cabbage, rosette bok choy, or tat soi.
This Asian salad green tastes quite mild and mustard-like. Its small and rounded leaves have a texture that is reminiscent of baby spinach, and the two are often mistaken for one another. Baby tatsoi is normally sold loose. However, when it is mature, it is whole like a rosette and cooked intact in stir-fry. They can be found in specialty shops or farmers’ markets.
Also known as Boston, butter lettuce, or Bibb (limestone).
This kind of head lettuce has soft leaves and as the name states, have a smooth texture like butter. There are, actually, two kinds, with Bibb costing more and found in plastic containers in order to keep the delicate leaves safe from damage.
Also known as cos lettuce.
This is a kind of lettuce that is stiffer than other kinds, with the thick center rib delivering quite a bit of crunch and a bit of a bitter taste. This is the type of green lettuce used in the original Caesar salad.
Also known as corn salad, field lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, field salad, or fetticus.
It is easy to spot in the store because it is sold with the soil attached. In terms of taste, it has a mild and sweet flavor, making it a nice addition to your salad. They are normally small and delicate so you cannot create a whole bowl of salad with this as the base. The leaves bruise easily, so make sure you handle them carefully.
Also known as oak leaf.
The name originates from the fact that the leaves look like those of an oak tree. In fact, you can easily confuse it for green or red leaf lettuce, but you will see closely that they have a different texture and shape. They are also shorter and the tops are softer. This is also tender, but it still is a good bed for other food and the taste will not overwhelm other flavors.
Also known as red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, or leaf lettuce.
This type is another popular choice, thanks to their mild flavor. They have a crispy stem to deliver a bit of a crunch but they can still be torn apart easily. Moreover, they have ruffled surfaces that add texture to your salad. They have normally bigger leaves so you will need to tear them into smaller pieces first.
If you are bored with your usual salad made of iceberg lettuce, then let this be a guide to introduce you to other varieties of lettuce that can add a twist to your bowl. Depending on your preferences, you can try to mix and match to create your favorite combination.
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